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Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh Reclocker Review Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Article Index
Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh Reclocker Review
Set Up and Listening
Conclusion and Specifications

I certainly don’t have technical qualifications to understand much about digital audio under the chassis, but I do know external clocks are often used in critical applications in professional settings. Empirical further explains, "in order for the Synchro-Mesh to reclock these digital devices, it performs what is called Asynchronous Sample-Rate Conversion or “ASRC”. This means that the Synchro-Mesh re-samples the data-stream and outputs only one sample-rate. This output sample-rate can be specified at the time of ordering to be either 44.1 or 96. If you input 192 or 44.1 files to the SM, and it is set for 96, then it will always output 96, either down-sampling or up-sampling.

If you input 96 to the same SM, it will output 96, but it will not be bit-perfect since it is resampled. Typically, we recommend 96 output because most DAC digital filters for 96 sound better than the filter for 44.1. If you have an older NOS DAC that only takes 16-bit data, then 44.1 output is more compatible. The Synchro-Mesh is essentially plug-and-play, however you can set the bit depth to 16-bit or 24-bit using a front-panel toggle. 24-bit is generally better for most DACs, but older DACs may only be compatible with 16-bit data

As you can see, there are some interesting quirks in the Synchro-Mesh's design and application. My reference DAC, the Bryston BDA-1, accepts up to 192 Khz data, so Nugent supplied me with a unit that outputs 96 Khz.  He also supplied a transformerless unit, as the BDA-1 has transformer-coupled SPDIF. This is an important to item to note when ordering, as Nugent says two transformers in the signal path is sub optimal. 

Emperical Audio Synchro-Mesh Reclocker

Set Up & Listening

The Synchro-Mesh ships with its own 12 Volt AC power supply, but Nugent sent me an aftermarket Paul Hynes power supply, which he feels is excellent for computer audio. He also sent a very high quality BNC cable along with coaxial adaptors, which I did not need as the Bryston BDA-1 does indeed except BNC inputs. I ran a DH labs optical cable out of my Squeezebox Touch into the Synchro-Mesh, then the BNC cable into the DAC. I made sure that 24 bit output was selected via the front panel toggle switch. I also ran a coaxial cable from the Touch, straight into the Bryston so I could do real time comparisons. I decided to de-select upsampling on the Bryston as well, since the Synchro-Mesh was already going to output upsampled 96 Khz data. I felt this would minimize the amount of processing. Eighty percent of my digital music collection is in 44.1 khz, 16 bit Redbook CD format, and that is what I exclusively used with the unit. I do have a healthy collection of higher resolution material, but as Empirical notes, it will be downsampled if over 96 Khz.

Having no experience with outboard clocks or re-clockers, I was not sure what to expect with the Synchro-Mesh. However, it was readily apparent there was distinct, yet subtle presentation improvement with the Synrchro-Mesh in the signal chain. I say subtle because it does not provide an in your face, day and night difference, but it is very easy to ear the effects of high quality re-clocking. Specifically, there is a crystalline, silky quality to the high frequencies that appears and creates a gorgeous sparkle to the sound.  Acoustic guitars shimmer and well recorded, close mic'd vocals become even more present.

I purposely cued up some favorite albums from earlier in the digital/CD era, mostly 1990’s stuff initially, to see how the Synchro-Mesh could improve the sound. Albums made before the loudness wars by groups like The Seahorses, The Tragically Hip, and Super 8 were more dynamic and well recorded than I had previously known. Do It Yourself, by the Seahorses, was particularly surprising, as I had always believed it was decently recorded, but a bit brittle. Not the case. The Synchro-Mesh revealed nuances and a smooth top end I had not previously realized. The opening track, "I Want You To Know", propels out of the speakers with a huge electric bass line, cracking drums, and classic guitar riffing. Impossible not to be impressed here.


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